Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and a key member of the 2000 senior class that finished with a 9-3 record and top 25 consideration in both the major polls. Buns finished fifth in the voting for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top center in college football, and in high school was named the Class 1-A Player of the Year by the Des Moines Register. The native of Denver, Iowa now provides analysis for the Cyclone Radio Network and Cyclone Nation during the football season.
CN: What are your overall impressions of the Tennessee Tech game? Was that anything more than a glorified scrimmage just to keep guys loose before the Iowa game?
BRUNS: I think it was a tune-up. I think it was a good tune-up. In my opinion, Tennessee Tech did some better things than Kansas in quite a few areas. I was impressed the petal just stayed to the metal throughout the whole thing.
CN: Not five minutes after the game was done Dan McCarney admitted the staff had already broken down the Iowa-Akron game film. How much preparation time last week do you think was spent on the Hawkeyes instead of Tennessee Tech?
BRUNS: I would say quite a lot by the coaching staff, but none by the players. The coaches are working long hours so they have time to do that sort of stuff. I just came from there (Wednesday night) and they were still there.
CN: You said last week you were looking forward to seeing some of the younger guys getting a chance along the offensive line against Tennessee Tech. Did you like what you saw there?
BRUNS: I think there's a lot of talent there for the future. I think Collin Menard did a nice job, he just needs to work on staying on his feet. Korey Pence did some nice things, he just needs to keep working. A bunch of guys got in and I think there's definitely a lot more depth in the future. Guys like Seth Zehr and Corey Wierson are redshirting and they have a bright future ahead of them. I also think Luke Vander Sanden is going to be back before anybody else thinks he'll be back, maybe even next week.
CN: Self-serving question—what did you think of the new Cyclone Nation Magazine?
BRUNS: (Laughing) I thought the pictures and color were absolutely fantastic. I got to admit you got me teased with that Seneca article. But I haven't had a chance to read through it yet.
CN: Back to the team. The last two weeks we've seen the offense sort of bog down a bit in the red zone. Are you concerned about that?
BRUNS: I'm not because I don't know that you've seen all we have to offer at this point. I think there will be some interesting wrinkles come into play this week that could help that situation.
CN: Along those same lines, COWBOYCLONE from our message board wants to know if you agree with his assessment that Iowa State has struggled to run the ball effectively in short-yardage and goal-line situations the past two seasons? If you do agree, what can be done to correct that?
BRUNS: I would tend to agree with that. You have to have great physical play from your interior line in those situations. Bob Montgomery is a good player for us. But if you look at last year I never thought Lorenzo White was as physical as we thought he could be. I think Zach Butler has a tendency to get his pads up and has leverage problems at times. In goal line situations you have to have leverage. He's a guy that should be a dominant player. I think Vander Sanden was really coming on at the other guard spot. Jordan Carstens said before Vander Sanden got hurt that he was a big handful, so it will be good to have him back. I think that as this team develops and matures they'll get better, but it has been a struggle at times.
CN: Okay, now to the big game. If you were a senior on the Hawkeye football team (shudder!), and heard a fellow senior like linebacker Fred Barr spouting off about how much he hates Iowa State to the press, what would your reaction be?
BRUNS: I'd be pissed off. My reaction would be to ask why give them anymore cause to beat us than they already have? One of things that's different between Iowa and Iowa State is that Coach McCarney has always emphasized not saying things like that in the paper. We're always respectful to the opponent. In recent years there's been a history of their program disrespecting their opponents. I think Kirk Ferentz is a good guy, but he needs to tell his guys that talk doesn't get things done. Look at a guy like Grant Steen, who flips the crowd the bird last year. What kind of class is that? I don't understand the mentality. Just because he couldn't hold onto the pill isn't the Iowa State fans' fault. It's just ignorant.
CN: I heard you say on the "Cardinal-and-Gold Hour" radio program (on KXnO—Plug!) Wednesday night that smack-talk has no place in a rivalry like this. Explain what you meant by that.
BRUNS: Tensions are going to be high enough as it is. It goes back to the philosophy Mac has instilled in all of us. Why give your opponents the advantage with the things you say? Fred Barr is saying what he should be thinking, but he shouldn't be saying it. All it does is motivate your opponent. All it did when Kahlil Hill and Jeremy Allen spouted off last year was motivate us. Thanks guys, we'll put another quote on the wall next to all the wonderful clips from "Sound Off" that are playing on the TV in the locker room.
CN: What do you say in response to a guy like Grant Steen, who after last season's loss wasn't exactly effusive in his praise for the Cyclones?
BRUNS: Quite honestly I wouldn't say anything to him. I'd just go out and knock him down and hit him in the face – legally – over and over again. It's a hard-nosed game on the field, but all he's doing is running his mouth. All you're doing with that stuff is making yourself look stupid. You need to prove that on the field in a physical football game. I don't understand after you lose saying you dominated. No, you didn't. But then again, defensive guys are a little weird.
CN: When you played in this rivalry, which Hawkeye players did the most talking on the field?
BRUNS: Jerry Montgomery talked a lot of smack. There was a linebacker that talked a lot to me, but I don't remember who he was which meant he must've not been any good.
CN: This is the obligatory "since you're an Iowan is this game more important to you" question. So, is it?
BRUNS: It is a big game for the in-state guys. The thing I love the most about this game is laughing at the Hawkeye fans that walk around and think they're better than us. The concept that they should be playing in the Rose Bowl every year is prevalent over there. Don't get me wrong, it's a storied football program. But they wouldn't even play us when we would've beaten them 15 in a row. I felt a lot of disrespect about why I wanted to go to Iowa State my first few years. Most of us don't act like that to them. But as we win year-after-year it will get to the point that our fans will be harder on them than they should be. The other funny thing is if their program is so outstanding, and we've beaten them four years in a row, why haven't we gotten the national media exposure from that we got for coming close against Florida State?
CN: Give us your view from deep in the heart of Cyclone Country on Kirk Ferentz and the overall Iowa program.
BRUNS: I think Coach Ferentz was dealt a tough hand. Most of the Iowa fans felt that he wasn't right guy. I think he's a good coach and a good person. I would have no problem at all playing for him. In the same breath, I think he needs to impress upon those guys how important it is to do things the right way with all the issues they've had over there.
CN: Is this state big enough to support two big-time college football programs that contend for bowl games and first divisions in their respective conferences every season?
BRUNS: I think that it is, but I think you also have to take a look at the level of competition. If you look at Iowa's schedule, they don't play Ohio State, which is the team to beat in the Big Ten. If you look at the Big 12, Iowa State has Kansas State, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and even Missouri, which wiped the floor up with Illinois. In the long run, there's room if one of the leagues is down.
CN: Take us back to the '98 game when Iowa State broke the 15-year streak of futility against Iowa. At what point in the week leading up to the game did you guys actually believe you could win, especially since they had pummeled you 63-20 the year before in Ames?
BRUNS: I don't think we'd ever thought we'd lose, but after we blocked that first punt and stuffed it in the end zone we knew we would win. They place got quiet at first, and then it got loud for us and there couldn't have been that many of our fans there. It's something my dad and I still talk about. From the start to the finish of that game we were more physical and wanted it more. We threw Jared DeVries around and were all over their linebackers. I just remember walking up to the ball at the goal line and we all had a swagger in our steps and no doubts that we were going to blow those guys out of there. We knew we were going to run them over and loved every second of it. From the word go it was a complete victory.
CN: Describe what the final few seconds were like that afternoon and the post-game locker room scene.
BRUNS: I just remember everybody being on the field and feeling like a weight had been lifted off of us. We had climbed the first rung of the ladder. All the hard work we had done, and the work of all those guys before us, meant something. It was the first affirmation of the new era of this football program. I just remember everyone being happier than ever before. Guys who didn't like one another very much were hugging each other's necks. It was the most unifying thing I'd ever been around.
CN: Do you think that Saturday's game could sway the minds of any of the Cyclones commitments should Iowa win for the first time in five years?
BRUNS: That is ridiculous. Win or lose, my advice to any young person that is looking for a university to attend – I was there and had to make that choice – is that one game should have nothing to do with the next four or five years of your life. The guys here were blue-collar guys at Iowa State and it felt like home, that's why I came here. And every single guy that has signed with us since Coach Mac has been here has said the exact same thing. If anybody at Iowa can stand up and say what I just said I will be really surprised. My decision wasn't based on the outcome of a game, because we hadn't won in forever. I wanted to come to Iowa State because of the university, atmosphere, and the family. If you're a recruit and you feel more comfortable at Iowa, then go there. But I promise you that all the guys who've said they're going to Iowa State are going there for more than the game on Saturday.
CN: To me, a big key in the game will be how much the Iowa coaches trust that Brad Banks can win the game for them. If they come out conservative, don't entrust him with the game-plan, and aren't aggressive in their play calling they're playing right into Iowa State's hands. I thought that was a huge difference in last year's game. Mac and the staff believed in Seneca that day, the same can't be said for Kirk and the staff regarding Kyle McCann. What are your thoughts?
BRUNS: I watched the entire Miami (Ohio) game and Brad made great decisions and threw the ball well. He also had lots of time. However, I'm not sure that Iowa is going to make it the Brad Banks show for the same reasons you just mentioned. I'm not sure they have that faith. He's going to have to throw the ball well against a really good secondary for them to win.
CN: How much does the Iowa running game scare you? I think, and Mac said earlier this week that he agrees, their offensive line is at least – if not more – physical than even Florida State's was.
BRUNS: (laughing) I love Mac. They're very scary and really physical. I'm not sure we even should play the game. Seriously, those guys protect the passer well. The tackles are great run-blockers. The guards are good players, but not dominating players. A lot is made out of center Bruce Nelson, but he has a hard time getting leverage on a shorter player. I don't think there's anything there that is frightening, but it's a good group.
CN: Of course, the Iowa running game dominated the Cyclone defense last season and Iowa State still won. Would Iowa State be playing fire to let that happen again?
BRUNS: Fairly consistently we have forced teams into short yardage on first and second down and then long third downs going back to late last season. Those guys can run the ball, but if you look at the rest of our schedule I don't know that this crew are any better than the guys at Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. We sure as heck better be able to stop the run or we're not going to go where we want to go this year.
CN: Can Iowa State win a special teams battle with the Hawkeyes given the place kicking situation?
BRUNS: Remember that Tony Yelk won the Iowa game for us last year with a big kick. People kind of lose sight of things like that. Obviously, Nate Kaeding is outstanding. You have to understand as an offensive player that it's your responsibility to score a touchdown in the red zone.
CN: As a loyal Cyclone, you have to be anxious to see what your receivers and Wallace can do against Iowa's 113th in the nation pass defense.
BRUNS: Absolutely I am. I don't think they've seen a receiver that runs routes like Lane Danielsen or has the speed of a Lance Young. And I know they haven't seen a quarterback with the talent of Seneca Wallace.
CN: I understand you had a chance to attend an Iowa State practice earlier this week. What's the overall mood of the team?
BRUNS: They're ready. If I were an underdog after beating them four years in a row and hearing their fans say things on "Sound Off" that are absurd and not merited by history I'd be ready to play. But at the same time they understand this is another notch in the belt and they have higher goals this year. They're on a quest for national respect.
CN: Two years ago, Steve Loney set the tone for the game early on with that reverse to J.J. Moses that devastated the Hawkeyes and the crowd at Kinnick Stadium. How would you set the tone on the first offensive drive this weekend?
BRUNS: I'd let Seneca do his thing and get the ball in his hands. I'd let him run it, throw it, and do whatever he wanted to with it. In that game two years ago, we saw a weakness on tape with Aaron Kampman on the edge versus Moses' speed and we exploited it. I would expect Iowa State to use Seneca to exploit whatever weakness we've seen in their film.
CN: As a native Iowan, do you root for the Hawkeyes to do well except when they're playing Iowa State?
BRUNS: That's a funny question because I know a lot of good people who are Hawkeye fans who tell me they do that. But you know what, I don't and I won't ever. The reason is because of the disrespect I felt every single time I walked around Waterloo with an Iowa State shirt. I can't bring myself to cheer them on. Now, when Tom Davis was coaching that basketball team in that Sweet 16 I cheered for them because I thought he was a good man, but that would be an exception.
CN: Give us your prescription for a fifth straight Iowa State victory over Iowa come Saturday night.
BRUNS: We have to be solid in the kicking game, no mistakes, make big plays, and limit their big plays. With our speed, they'll have a hard time getting big plays. The speed matchup is another key. I think we're faster. We've got great athletes all over the field. I'm really looking forward to it.